Home grown talent is the fastest and most affordable way to rebuild any major league organization, and is a trend that is catching fast as its popularity grows.
The San Francisco Giants have transformed themselves from a meager offensive team with patchwork pitching to the epitome of a National League contender—all because of solid drafts in recent years and successful organizational development of talent. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner were all drafted and developed by the organization, as was Rookie of the Year Buster Posey, All-Star Pablo Sandoval and starters Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford.
Even their rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers, have adopted a similar philosophy in their effort to get back to October, developing All-Stars Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw through their minor league system.
Kemp, originally drafted in the sixth round by the Dodgers as a toolsy outfielder, has turned into one of the best players in all of baseball. They drafted him because of his athleticism, envisioning a young Brian Jordan in the making—an expectation Kemp has lived up to and more.
Kershaw is arguably the best left-handed pitcher in the game and is another example of how the Dodgers have developed minor league talent exceptionally well in recent years.
Interestingly enough, Los Angeles decided to ignore their successful track record and sent away two of their top prospects to acquire Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett from the Red Sox. They proceeded to lose 16 of their next 22 games and fell out of contention, all the while losing top pitching prospect Allen Webster and outfield prospect Jerry Sands in the deal.
While the Dodgers still possess one of the most talented rosters in the majors, there will be serious concerns about the sustainability and chemistry of the current group if they don't start winning immediately. Unfortunately, after a series of trades that all but gutted the minor league system, Los Angeles may have to look to other means to build a lasting contender down the road.
Currently in the National League West, it's the Diamondbacks, Padres and Rockies who are rebuilding through the draft and minor league development most effectively.
San Diego has been stockpiling young talent by sending off outdated major leaguers during the last few years, building one of the deepest prospect pools in all of baseball. Arizona has a trio of young arms that all have high ceilings, two of which could project as future aces. Colorado has drafted well recently and has a number of young players on the doorstep of the major leagues with more to come in time.
While it's the Giants and Dodgers getting most of the headlines about contending in the National League West next season, the next wave of young talent may be enough to change the balance of power in coming years.
1. RHP Trevor Bauer (ARZ)
- After overpowering hitters in the minors, Bauer’s highly anticipated major league debut didn’t go nearly as planned for the Diamondbacks. He showed signs of arm fatigue, struggled with his command and battled a groin injury that eventually landed him back in Reno (AAA). When he is healthy, Bauer features a low-to-mid-90s fastball, a hard breaking curveball and a circle changeup that falls off the table. His stature, windup and pitch arsenal all are reminiscent of Tim Lincecum, whom Bauer lists as his idol growing up. If he can right his mechanics next season, there is little doubt Bauer will find himself in the Arizona rotation at some point in 2013. Whether or not he is a future ace like Lincecum is debatable, but Bauer certainly looks the part.
2. 3B/2B Jedd Gyorko (San Diego Padres)
- If it weren’t for a career year from incumbent third baseman Chase Headley, the Padres likely would have been alright letting Gyorko get his feet wet while they rebuilt in 2012. With Headley emerging as one of the best offensive third basemen in the league, San Diego decided it was better served to let their top hitting prospect try a new position, as Gyorko moved to second base in an effort to find a spot for his bat in the major leagues. Every place Gyorko has been he has hit—college, low minors, high minors, summer leagues, you name it. His latest exhibit was a .311 batting average, 30 home runs and 100 RBI performance between San Antonio (AA) and Tucson (AAA). It was his second straight season in the minors with 25 or more home runs, 100 or more RBI and a .300 or better batting average, as Gyorko posted an equally impressive line in 2011. Once the Padres find a place for Gyorko defensively, he should prove to be a welcomed compliment to Headley in the lineup.
3. OF David Dahl (Colorado Rockies)
- Drafted in the first round of the 2012 draft, Dahl has quickly impressed the organization in his first professional season. At Grand Junction (R), Dahl earned offensive MVP honors by hitting .379 in 67 games, tacking on nine home runs and 57 RBI. While he will be hard pressed to repeat those type of numbers as he ascends through higher levels of the minors, the Rockies are hoping they found the offensive gem of last year’s draft. Still just 18 years old, Dahl has plenty of time to develop in the system and is young enough to overcome a bump or two in the road. If he performs well when promoted next season, he could be on the fast track for a Rockies team that needs more young talent.
4. OF Gary Brown (San Francisco Giants)
- Having struck first round gold in recent drafts with the likes of Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, San Francisco is hoping they found the next in line on that list with Brown. In his first professional season in 2011, the former Cal State Fullerton Titian set a San Jose (A) single season hit record with 188, adding 53 stolen bases and a .336 batting average. Brown was bumped up to Richmond (AA) this season, where he hit .279 to go along with 33 steals—no where near the offensive breakout he had in 2011 but still showing promising signs. While Angel Pagan and Hunter Pence are likely to return for the Giants in 2013, Melky Cabrera isn’t expected to be a part of the organization's plans, leaving one of the outfield spots open. A strong spring for Brown could tempt the Giants to try him in center, shifting Pagan over to left field and keeping Pence in right.
5. LHP Tyler Anderson (Colorado Rockies)
- The Rockies have notoriously struggled to develop pitching from within the organization, missing on several high draft picks and making poor free-agent signings such as Mike Hampton and Denny Naegle. They're hoping that trend will change with some of the young arms they currently have on the way, headlined by Anderson and others like Chad Bettis and Tyler Matzek. Having to pitch in a hitter’s paradise like Coors Field isn’t the best selling point for free-agent hurlers, so building from within seems to be Colorado’s best shot at developing a solid rotation for the future. Anderson breezed through lower levels of the minors in 2012, going 12-3 with a 2.47 ERA in 20 games started. The former University of Oregon standout got stronger as the year progressed, posting two of his best starts in the postseason and helping Ashville (A) finish the year strong. Being more polished as a collegiate pitcher than some of the Rockies high school arms, Anderson may be a candidate to get fast-tracked by the organization if they deem him ready.
6. RHP Archie Bradley (Arizona Diamondbacks)
- Once a highly recruited quarterback with offers from powerhouse programs like Oklahoma, Bradley has put his coveted right arm to use in the Diamondbacks system since being a first round pick in 2011. Though he wasn’t a cheap sign, Arizona was willing to penny up after Bradley went 12-1 with a 0.29 ERA as a prep senior at Broken Arrow high school (OK). He features a mid-to-upper-90s fastball that can top out in the triple digits, coupled with a developing changeup and curveball. His first season in the system yielded a 12-6 record and 3.84 ERA, putting Bradley among a promising group of Diamondbacks hurlers that includes Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs. Even better were the indications of how good Bradley’s stuff is, as the young right-hander allowed just 87 hits in 136 innings pitched, recording 152 strikeouts during that span.
7. SS Trevor Story (Colorado Rockies)
- Drafted out of high school in the supplemental first round in 2011, the Rockies were pleasantly surprised by Story’s first year in the organization and may have plans to groom him as the eventual replacement for Troy Tulowitzki. Considering Tulowitzki’s hard-nosed style of play and history of spending time on the DL, Colorado needs some sort of insurance behind their All-Star shortstop in the event the injury bug strikes again. Story projects as a similar breed to the man he may one day replace, being an offensive minded shortstop who can hit in the middle of the lineup. While Story may not hit for an extremely high average, his .277 average in the low minors this season suggests he could do enough to get by. His best traits are his power and ability to drive in runs, as Story finished with 18 homeruns and 63 RBI in 477 at-bats for Asheville (A) in 2012. If Tulowitzki ends up on the shelf again next season, Story could be one of the first be get a shot at filling in.
8. RHP Kyle Crick (San Francisco Giants)
- Having little pitching experience in high school, the Giants took a flier on Crick in the second round of the 2011 draft, banking on the projectability of his frame, velocity and the freshness of his arm. They were more than pleased after Crick’s first season for Augusta (A), as the right-hander went 7-6 with a 2.51 ERA—allowing just 75 hits in 111.1 innings pitched. As Crick continues to learn how to pitch and add to his secondary pitches, he could develop into a top-flight prospect for the Giants. His fastball is already a plus pitch, flirting with the upper 90s when his mechanics are sound. Although he is a year or two away from being a rotation candidate in San Francisco, there is more upside in Crick’s right arm than any other pitcher in the organization.
9. 3B Nolan Arenado (Colorado Rockies)
- Just a year ago, Arenado likely would have been near the top of this list after a breakout season that saw the third baseman hit .298 with 20 home runs and 122 RBI. He also stood out in the Arizona Fall League in a star-studded crowd that included Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and Wil Myers. Seemingly on the doorstep to being called up by the Rockies, Arenado endured a long slump in 2012 that diluted his final statistics. All told, he finished in Tulsa (AA) with a .285 batting average, 12 home runs and 56 RBI in 2012—a far cry from his breakout season a year ago but still a respectable line. Some think criticism that came from the Rockies front office last year may have affected Arenado’s level of play, but when he is comfortable at the plate there are few better offensive prospects in the minors. A bounce-back year from Arenado could put him in the conversation to compete with Jordan Pacheco and Chris Nelson for the third base job of the future.
10. LHP Tyler Skaggs (Arizona Diamondbacks)
- Originally acquired as a part of the Dan Haren trade with the Angels, Skaggs has emerged as the best left-handed pitcher in the Diamondbacks system and showed signs of being ready to pitch at the big league level. After going 9-6 in 22 starts with a 2.87 ERA in the minors, Arizona promoted Skaggs to the major league club and had the youngster make six starts down the stretch. The results were mixed as Skaggs finished 1-3 with a 5.83 ERA, eventually leading to the left-hander’s demotion back to Reno (AAA). While he made a few good starts, Skaggs’ velocity was down and his arm showed signs of fatigue. An offseason of rest should do all of the Diamondback’s young arms good, setting the stage for a competition between Skaggs and Trevor Bauer for one of the final rotation spots in 2013. If they both impress early, Arizona won’t hesitate to keep both on board for all of next season.
Honorable Mention—The Next Ten
*OF Yasiel Puig (LAD)
*OF Rymer Liriano (SD)
*3B Adam Duvall (SF)
*OF Joc Pederson (LAD)
*OF Tim Wheeler (COL)
*SS Corey Seager (LAD)
*RHP Clayton Blackburn (SF)
*3B Matt Davidson (ARI)
*SS Joe Panik (SF)
*OF Adam Eaton (ARI)